Philip Marlowe

Raymond Chandler
Character Created by RAYMOND CHANDLER

Cover images are scans of my copies of the books

THE BIG SLEEP (1939)     [*****]

Marlowe's first appearance. I originally read all these books - and anything else by Chandler I could get my hands on - way back when. I was just a young nipper - probably still in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed them. Re-reading them now, I was struck by some blatant homophobia and anti-semitism. The racism encountered (not so much in this one, but more so in the next) is pretty much what you would expect from a book written back when segregation was still in place and Marlowe seems to have nothing against blacks, but he certainly doesn't care for queers ...

Anyway, the book opens with Marlowe arriving at the house of a General Sternwood (Ret) and in chapter 2, the General asks Marlowe to:

    "Tell me about yourself, Mr. Marlowe. I suppose I have a right to ask?"
    "Sure, but there's very little to tell. I'm thirty-three years old, went to college once and can still speak English if there's any demand for it. There isn't much in my trade. I worked for Mr Wilde, the District Attorney, as an investigator once. His chief investigater, a man named Bernie Ohls, called me and told me you wanted to see me. I'm unmarried because I don't like policemen's wives."
    "And a little bit of a cynic," the old man smiled. "You didn't like working for Wilde?"
    "I was fired. For insubordination. I test very high on insubordination, General."

Heh, that was actually the only bit of the book I still remembered from when I first read it all those years ago. Oh, I still recalled the gist of the plot - probably because it has been made into a movie so many times (really must go rent them all one day).

Anyway, back to the story - the General hires Marlowe to look into a blackmailer, but everyone around seems to think he's been hired to find the General's lost son-in-law. So many people seem to think this, that Marlowe gets curious and ends up solving multiple mysteries along the way. He takes a few lumps in this one and has to deal with one wild child and one seriously deranged wild child in the General's two daughters and he just seems to have a knack for finding dead bodies.

He proves he's a tough guy in this and, frankly, he can be a bit of a bastard at times, but he also proves to be a bit of a romantic - he likes the General and goes out of his way to protect the old man.


FAREWELL MY LOVELY (1940)     [***]

I thoroughly enjoyed most of this book - the crazy characters, the quick dialog and man-o-man, but Marlowe takes several major beatings in this one - OUCH! But I gave it three stars because of the plot hole. Small plot holes can be quickly forgiven when there are GREAT characters and there are GREAT characters here, but this one has a HUGE plot hole you can drive a truck through and that just sort of ruins it for me.

Marlowe is on another case when he spots Moose Malloy. This guy is kind of hard to miss - really tall, really wide and really flamboyantly dressed - and he's standing in front of a spook joint. I guess from the context that means it's a 'blacks only' establishment, but it used to be a night club where Moose's girl worked. He has just gotten out of prison and he's looking for his Velma. Marlowe learns all this after curiosity gets the better of him and he ends up being strong-armed by Moose into going inside with him. Inside, Moose bounces the bouncer off the walls and kills the manager before leaving in search of Velma. The local cop wants Marlowe to help work on the case, but no one is paying, so why should he? But then, darn it all - he has no other case of consequence and he's curious as hell, so Marlowe does look into things. All he does is ask a few questions, but that draws attention to himself and other things start to happen.

The big plot hole is this: Some guy hires him to help make a drop. He says some jewels were stolen from a friend and the robbers are ransoming them back and this guy just wants some muscle along for reassurance. A simple job, except Marlowe gets sapped unconscious and the guy gets dead. Now, without revealing the ending, let's just say, the killer had EVERY reason to kill Marlowe too and absolutely NO reason to leave him alive, so what the heck? That particular situation was stupid to have put Marlowe into in the first place and it's a HUGE plot hole. And the final confrontation occurs in Marlowe's apartment - he knows these people are bad news and he invites them into his home? What's up with that? Stupid.

Most of it is fun, though - and Marlowe really needs to stay away from Bay City - that town and it's police force prove troublesome in several of the books. Let's see, Marlowe takes several beatings in this - at one point, he is strangled, pistol-whipped (with his own gun), strangled some more, sapped and then doped up for some weird reason and at another point, the Bay City cops try to set him up for a drunk-driving charge! Lots of owies in this one.

Anyway, the big huge plot hole ruined it for me, so only three stars for this one.


THE HIGH WINDOW (1942)     [*****]


THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1943)     [*****]


THE LITTLE SISTER (1949)     [rate]


THE LONG GOODBYE (1953)     [rate]


PLAYBACK (1958)     [rate]


POODLE SPRINGS (1959/1989)     [****]

Chandler had only finished the first four chapters of this one when he died in 1959. Some 30 years later, the Chandler estate contracted with author Robert B. Parker to finish it and this is the finished product. There are some cute moments in the first four chapters, but Marlowe seems a bit out of character. Parker brought him more-or-less back into character and wrote a great plot, but the one thing I object to is Marlowe being so hard-assed with his new wife. Sure, she knew what he was when she married him, but he knew what she was when he married her too. Granted, it's a given that the marriage won't last, but it might have been nice if it had lasted more than a freakin' week, for crying out loud!

And, yes, I guess that's a spoiler - sorry.

Well, this book opens with Marlowe just returning with his new heiress bride after a month's long honeymoon and moving into their new swanky estate in fashionable Poodle Springs - no pets allowed, unless it's a poodle. He immediately starts chaffing at the bit - he opens a new office and hires out to an unsavory character searching for a deadbeat gambler who owes him 10 grand. If he doesn't get the money he's owed pdq, his boss will do unkind things to him, so he hires Marlowe to find the guy. Simple missing persons case, right? Well, working in swanksville is anything but simple - local authorities don't like private gumshoes hassling big-shot residents. Heh, once again, Marlowe keeps finding dead bodies everywhere - oh, and women keep throwing themselves at him and he can't catch 'em 'cause he's married - LOL!

Overall, I enjoyed this one - the twisty-curvey plot and the pithy dialog are certainly vintage Chandler worthy. My only gripe, as I said earlier, is the way Marlowe treats his wife. A little more patience and I think they could have had a peaceful truce.

This one was written by Robert B. Parker as part of the contractual agreement made when he signed on to finish Poodle Springs.


PERCHANCE TO DREAM (1991)     [***½]

This is a sequal to The Big Sleep and there are several flashback moments taken directly from that earlier book which I think was unnecessary, but not a problem. I mean, sure, the original was written 50 years earlier, but you can read it again before reading this one. Anyway, the problem is, a lot of it seems to be taken word for word from other books - some descriptions and some situations just seem re-hashed. And if Eddie Mars calls Marlowe 'soldier' one more time, I'll scream - PLEASE!

Having said that, it was fun to re-visit these characters again and the old flair is certainly intact, even if it does seem a bit hackneyed here.

The General has died without ever learning the truth about his wacky daughters and Marlowe finds himself visiting the mansion again - at the request of Norris, the butler this time. Carmen Sternwood seems to have vanished from the mental asylum to which she was sent after the events of The Big Sleep and no one else seems to be doing anything about it. The General left Norris well-to-do in his will, so he can pay, though Marlowe never does collect anything for this case - not really like him at all.

He faces roadblocks at every turn, but eventually unravels a twisted tale of perversion, greed and psychomanipulation and when the mutilated corpse of a young woman turns up with Carmen's phone number in her purse, Marlowe grows increasingly certain that the next mutilated corpse they find will be Carmen's and he really goes the extra mile for the little ingrate.

I enjoyed the story but I really don't know why Marlowe refuses payment - well, he accepts a dollar. Is it because Norris is a butler? He likes Norris, but that's no reason to not get paid, especially considering the beating he takes on this case.

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